These short summer nights are illuminated by a pair of brilliant planets, Jupiter and Saturn. They are located down in the southern sky among the stars of Sagittarius and Scorpius, which are embedded in the glorious heart of the Milky Way. Higher in the sky, is the prominent Summer Triangle.
The Plough is in the north west as the Summer Triangle reaches the high meridian. Formed by the bright stars Vega, Altair and Deneb, in the constellations Lyra, Aquila and Cygnus respectively, it is bisected by the Milky Way, which arches high across our eastern sky from Sagittarius and Scorpius low in the south to Cepheus, Cassiopeia and Perseus in the north east.
Jupiter is king of the night. At opposition on 14th July, and blazing low in the southern sky all night long in Sagittarius. At magnitude –2.7 the gas giant for outshines any star.
Just to the left of Jupiter is Saturn, ten times fainter at magnitude +0.1 and also visible all night long in Sagittarius. The ringworld reaches opposition on 20th July.
Mars is rising in the east around midnight. Intermediate in brightness between Jupiter and Saturn. During the month, the Red Planet brightens from magnitude –0.5 to –1.1 as it travels through Pisces.
Dim Neptune at magnitude +7.8 rises in Aquarius about 11pm. Its near twin Uranus is rising around 0.30am in Aries, and shines at magnitude +5.8.
Brilliant Venus, at magnitude –4.4, appears before the Sun in the morning sky, rising about 2.30am. During the first half of the month, the morning star lies among the stars of the Hyades. And on the mornings of the 11th and 12th July it passes just above Aldebaran.
Just before dawn on 17th July, Venus is located just below the thin crescent Moon. The star to the right is Aldebaran. Look closely and best through binoculars and you will observe the stars of the Hyades swarming near the Moon. The Pleiades to the top right set off the whole show.
During the last wee of July, Mercury can be located on the horizon, well to the lower left of Venus. It reaches western elongation on 22nd of this month. Shinning at magnitude –0.5. It rises just before 4am.
On the 18th July with a clear north western horizon and a telescope, watch the crescent Moon move in front of the Crab Nebula. Starting at 3.25am and ending an hour later.
Around the 28th and 29th of this month we will see the annual peak of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower. It might be possible to see up to 20 meteors per hour. The best time to see this shower will be between midnight and dawn. Delta Aquariid meteors may come from Comet Machholz which was discovered by Donald Machholz in 1986.
Phases of the Moon for July:-
Full Moon 5th
Last Quarter 13th
New Moon 20th
First quarter 27th